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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
Three Years of Warfare
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[The succeeding events of the war between the colonies we shall describe with more brevity, lest the reader grow wearied with the details of battle and bloodshed which constitute all there is to offer. The year 1755 had ended with a balance of advantages between the two contestants. In the two years succeeding all the advantage lay with the French, and it was not until 1758 that the English began to make head against their opponents, in preparation for the decisive operations of the following year. The events of the years 1756, 1757, and 1758 are briefly but clearly described in Holmes's "Annals of America," a useful old work from which we make our present selection.

Although the war had continued for two years in America, and been actively aided by the home powers, no declaration of war was made until 1756, the English king declaring war against France on May 17, and the French king replying with a like declaration in the following month. Both powers now took more active measures to support the war. The Earl of Loudoun was appointed commander-in-chief of the British forces in America, while the Marquis de Montcalm took command of the French forces in Canada. General Abercrombie was sent over in advance of Lord Loudoun, to take immediate command. Three expeditions were planned for the year's campaign, one of ten thousand men against Crown Point, one of six thousand against Niagara, and one of three thousand against Fort Duquesne. In addition, two thousand men were to advance up the Kennebec River and keep Canada in alarm. These forces were considerably greater than had hitherto been employed in America.]

The command of the expedition against Crown Point was given to Major-General Winslow, who, on reviewing the provincial troops destined for that service, found them not much to exceed seven thousand men,--a number which, after deducting from it the necessary garrisons, was declared inadequate to the enterprise. The arrival of British troops with General Abercrombie, while it relieved this difficulty, created a new one, which occasioned a temporary suspension of the projected expedition. The regulations of the crown respecting military rank had excited great disgust in America; and Winslow, when consulted on this delicate subject by Abercrombie, expressed his apprehensions that, if the result of a junction of British and provincial troops should be the placing of provincials under British officers, it would produce very general discontent, and perhaps desertion. To avoid so serious an evil, it was finally agreed that British troops should succeed the provincials in the posts then occupied by them, so as to enable the whole colonial force to proceed under Winslow against Crown Point. . . . Scarcely was this point of honor satisfactorily adjusted, when the attention of both British and provincial soldiers was arrested to a more serious subject.

M. Montcalm, who succeeded the baron Dieskau in the chief command of the French forces in Canada, approached Fort Ontario at Oswego on the 10th of August with more than five thousand regulars, Canadians, and Indians. Having made the necessary dispositions, he opened the trenches on the 12th at midnight, with thirty-two pieces of cannon, besides several brass mortars and howitzers. The garrison having fired away all their shells and ammunition, Colonel Mercer, the commanding officer, ordered the cannon to be spiked up, and crossed the river to Little Oswego Fort, without the loss of a single man. The enemy, taking immediate possession of the deserted fort, began a fire from it which was kept up without intermission. About four miles and a half up the river was Fort George, the defence of which was committed to Colonel Schuyler. On the abandonment of the first fort by Colonel Mercer, about three hundred and seventy of his men had joined Colonel Schuyler, in the intention of having an intercourse between his fort and that to which their own commander retreated; but a body of twenty-five hundred Canadians and Indians boldly swam across the river in the night between the 13th and 14th and cut off that communication. On the 13th, Colonel Mercer was killed by a cannon-ball. The garrison, deprived of their commander, who was an officer of courage and experience, frustrated in their hope of aid, and destitute of a cover to their fort, demanded a capitulation on the following day, and surrendered as prisoners of war. They were the regiments of Shirley and Pepperell, and amounted to fourteen hundred men. The conditions required, and acceded to, were that they should be exempted from plunder, conducted to Montreal, and treated with humanity. No sooner was Montcalm in possession of the two forts at Oswego than, with admirable policy, he demolished them in presence of the Indians of the Six Nations, in whose country they had been erected, and whose jealousy they had excited.

On this disastrous event, every plan of offensive operation was immediately relinquished.

[All the forces which had been raised remained on the defensive, in anticipation of possible advances by the French. The only active operation was against the Indians of western Pennsylvania, who, since the event of Braddock's defeat, had severely raided the outlying settlements.]

Fort Granby, on the confines of Pennsylvania, was surprised by a party of French and Indians, who made the garrison prisoners. Instead of scalping the captives, they loaded them with flour, and drove them into captivity. The Indians on the Ohio, having killed above a thousand of the inhabitants of the western frontiers, were soon chastised with military vengeance. Colonel Armstrong, with a party of two hundred and eighty provincials,marched from Fort Shirley, which had been built on the Juniata River, about one hundred and fifty miles west of Philadelphia, to Kittanning, an Indian town, the rendezvous of those murdering Indians, and destroyed it. Captain Jacobs, the Indian chief, defended himself through loop-holes of his log-house. The Indians refusing the quarter which was offered them, Colonel Armstrong ordered their houses to be set on fire; and many of the Indians were suffocated and burnt; others were shot in attempting to reach the river. The Indian captain, his squaw, and a boy called the King's Son were shot as they were getting out of the window, and were all scalped. It was computed that between thirty and forty Indians were destroyed. Eleven English prisoners were released.

[The plan of proceedings for the year 1757 was less complex than that for the preceding year, but was no more successful. Leaving the frontier posts strongly garrisoned. Lord Loudoun determined on the siege of the highly-important fortress of Louisburg, on Cape Breton, with all his disposable force. But after reaching Halifax with his fleet and army he learned that Louisburg was garrisoned with six thousand French regulars, in addition to the provincials, and that seventeen line-of-battle ships were in the harbor. This destroyed all hope of success, and the expedition was abandoned. In September, the British fleet, cruising off Louisburg, narrowly escaped destruction from a violent gale, which drove one frigate ashore and seriously injured most of the others. The only military advantage of the year was gained by the French under Montcalm, in an expedition against Fort William Henry, which had been erected by Johnson at the scene of his victory two years before.]

The Marquis de Montcalm, availing himself of the absence of the principal part of the British force, advanced with an army of nine thousand men and laid siege to Fort William Henry. The garrison at this fort consisted of between two thousand and three thousand regulars, and its fortifications were strong and in very good order. For the further security of this important post, General Webb was stationed at Fort Edward with an army of four thousand men. The French commander, however, urged his approaches with such vigor that, within six days after the investment of the fort, Coloned Monroe, the commandant, after a spirited resistance, surrendered by capitulation. The garrison was to be allowed the honors of war, and to be protected against the Indians until within the reach of Fort Edward; but no sooner had the soldiers left the place than the Indians in the French army, disregarding the stipulation, fell upon them and committed the most cruel outrages.

The British officers complained that the troops were pillaged, and that the men were dragged out of the ranks and tomahawked, before the exertions of the Marquis de Montcalm to restrain the savages were effectual. Carver says the captured troops were, by the capitulation, to be allowed covered wagons to transport their baggage to Fort Edward, and a guard to protect them; that the promised guard was not furnished; and that fifteen hundred persons were either killed or made prisoners by the Indians. . . Minot says, "The breach of this capitulation, whether voluntary or unavoidable on the part of the French, was a most interesting subject of reproach at the time, and long continued to fill the British colonists with indignation and horror." A great part of the prisoners, he observes, were pillaged and stripped, and many of them murdered, by the savages; some reached Fort Edward in a scattering manner, and others returned again to the French.

[This disastrous event has seriously tarnished the fair fame of the Marquis de Montcalm. To what extent he and his officers intervened to stop the butchery is uncertain, but there is good reason to believe that the French in general permitted the massacre to go on with scarce an effort to stop it. General Webb is also severely blamed by historians for not reinforcing Monroe, and is accused of cowardice, for which accusation his behavior gave abundant warrant. The massacre was the more terrible in that there were many women and children in the retreating column, who were killed indiscriminately with the men. The Indians present with the English were taken prisoners by their foes and reserved for the more horrible fate of death by torture.

The year 1758 opened gloomily for the British colonies. The successes of the year before had all been in favor of the French, and they now occupied positions which gave them special advantages in the continuance of the war. The taking of Oswego had destroyed all English control of the Northern lakes; the capture of Fort William Henry gave the French possession of Lakes Champlain and George, and a position in the heart of the British territory; and the retention of Fort Duquesne gave them possession of the country west of the Alleghanies, and enabled them to exert a powerful influence over the Indians. Yet, despite this gloomy aspect of affairs, the British prepared for the next year's campaign with unabated energy and courage. William Pitt, now prime minister of England, put all his vigor and ability into the prosecution of the war. Twelve thousand troops were sent over under General Amherst, and General Abercombie, who was now made commander-in-chief of the British forces, was at the head of much the greatest army as yet ever seen in America, consisting of fifty thousand men, of whom twenty-two thousand were regular troops.]

Three expeditions were proposed for this year: the first, against Louisburg; the second, against Ticonderoga and Crown Point; and the third, against Fort Duquesne. On the first expedition, Admiral Boscawen sailed from Halifax on the 28th of May, with a fleet of twenty ships of the line and eighteen frigates, and an army of fourteen thousand men under the command of General Amherst, and arrived before Louisburg on the 2nd of June. The garrison of that place, commanded by the Chevalier de Dracourt, an officer of courage and experience, was composed of two thousand five hundred regulars, aided by six hundred militia. The harbor being secured by five ships of the line, one fifty-gun ship, and five frigates, three of which were sunk across the mouth of the basin, it was found necessary to land at some distance from the town. When, with some difficulty but little loss, the landing was effected at the creek of Cormoran, and the artillery and stores were brought on shore, General Wolfe was detached with two thousand men to seize a post occupied by the enemy at the Lighthouse point, from which the ships in the harbor and the fortifications in the town might be greatly annoyed. On the approach of that gallant officer, the post was abandoned; and several very strong batteries were erected there. Approaches were also made on the opposite side of the town, and the siege was pressed with resolute but slow and cautious vigor. A very heavy cannonade being kept up against the town and the vessels in the harbor, a bomb at length set on fire and blew up one of the great ships, and the flames were communicated to two others, which shared the same fate. The English admiral now sent six hundred men in boats into the harbor, to make an attempt on the two ships of the line which still remained in the basin; and one of them, that was aground, was destroyed, and the other was towed off in triumph. This gallant exploit putting the English in complete possession of the harbor, and several breaches being made practicable in the works, the place was deemed no longer defensible, and the governor offered to capitulate. His terms, however, were refused; and it was required that the garrison should surrender as prisoners of war, or sustain an assault by sea and land. These humiliating terms, though at first rejected, were afterwards acceded to; and Louisburg, with all its artillery, provisions, and military stores, as also Island Royal, St. John's, and their dependencies, were placed in the hands of the English, who, without further difficulty, took entire possession of the island of Cape Breton. In effecting this conquest about four hundred of the assailants were killed or wounded. The conquerors found two hundred and twenty-one pieces of cannon and eighteen mortars, with a very large quantity of stores and ammunition. The inhabitants of Cape Breton were sent to France in English ships; but the garrison, sea-officers, sailors, and marines, amounting collectively to five thousand six hundred and thirty-seven, were carried prisoners to England. The garrison lost upwards of fifteen hundred men, and the town was left "almost a heap of ruins."

The armies intended for the execution of the plans against Ticonderoga and Fort Duquesne were to rendezvous at Albany and Philadelphia. The first was commanded by General Abercrombie, and consisted of upwards of fifteen thousand men, attended by a formidable train of artillery. On the 5th of July the general embarked his troops on Lake George, on board of one hundred and twenty-five whale-boats and nine hundred bateaux. His first operations were against Ticonderoga. After debarkation at the landing-place in a cove on the west side of the lake, the troops were formed into four columns, the British in the centre and the provincials on the flanks. In this order they marched towards the advanced guard of the French, which, consisting of one battalion only, posted in a logged camp, destroyed what was in their power and made a precipitate retreat. While Abercrombie was continuing his march in the woods, towards Ticonderoga, the columns were thrown into confusion, and in some degree entangled with each other. At this juncture, Lord Howe, at the head of the right centre column, fell in with a part of the advanced guard of the enemy which was lost in the wood in retreating from Lake George, and immediately attacked and dispersed it, killing a considerable number, and taking one hundred and forty-eight prisoners. In this skirmish, Lord Howe fell on the first fire.

The English army, without further opposition, took possession of a post within two miles of Ticonderoga. Abercrombie, having learned from the prisoners the strength of the enemy at that fortress, and from an engineer the condition of their works, resolved on an immediate storm, and made instant disposition for an assault. The troops, having received orders to march up briskly, rush upon the enemy's fire, and reserve their own till they had passed a breastwork, marched to the assault with great intrepidity. Unlooked-for impediments, however, occurred. In front of the breastwork, to a considerable distance, trees had been felled with their branches outward, many of which were sharpened to a point, by means of which the assailants were not only retarded in their advance, but, becoming entangled among the boughs, were exposed to a very galling fire. Finding it impracticable to pass the breastwork, which was eight or nine feet high, and much stronger than had been represented, General Abercrombie, after a contest of nearly four hours, ordered a retreat, and the next day resumed his former camp on the south side of Lake George. In this ill-judged assault nearly two thousand of the assailants were killed and wounded, of which number towards four hundred were provincials. Almost half of the Highland regiment, commanded by Lord John Murray, with twenty-five of its officers, were either killed or desperately wounded. The loss of the enemy, who were covered during the whole action, was inconsiderable.

[This severe defeat put an end to the expedition against Crown Point. One success, however, was gained. Abercrombie detached three thousand men under Colonel Bradstreet on an expedition which the colonel had proposed against Fort Frontenac, an important post on the western shore of the outlet of Lake Ontario, at the site of the present city of Kingston. Bradstreet marched to Oswego, embarked on the lake, and landed near the fort on August 25. Two days' siege compelled a surrender, and the post with all its contents fell into his hands. Having destroyed it, and the vessels in the harbor, he withdrew his forces.]

The demolition of Fort Frontenac facilitated the reduction of Fort Duquesne. General Forbes, to whom this enterprise was intrusted, had marched early in July from Philadelphia at the head of the army destined for the expedition; but such delays were experienced, it was not until September that the Virginia regulars, commanded by Colonel Washington, were ordered to join the British troops at Raystown. Before the army was put in motion, Major Grant was detached with eight hundred men, partly British and partly provincials, to reconnoitre the fort and the adjacent country. Having invited an attack from the French garrison, this detachment was surrounded by the enemy; and after a brave defence, in which three hundred men were killed and wounded, Major Grant and nineteen other officers were taken prisoners. General Forbes, with the main army, amounting to at least eight thousand men, at length moved forward from Raystown, but did not reach Fort Duquesne until late in November. On the evening preceding his arrival, the French garrison, deserted by their Indians, and unequal to the maintenance of the place against so formidable an army, had abandoned the fort, and escaped in boats down the Ohio. The English now took possession of that important fortress, and, in compliment to the popular minister, called it Pittsburg. No sooner was the British flag erected on it than the numerous tribes of the Ohio Indians came in and made their submission to the English. General Forbes, having concluded treaties with these natives, left a garrison of provincials in the fort, and built a block-house near Loyal Hannan; but, worn out with fatigue, he died before he could reach Philadelphia.

[Other advantages were gained by the English, and, despite the repulse at Ticonderoga, the balance of success in the year's operations was decidedly on the side of the British forces. One remarkable personal adventure of the war we may select, in conclusion, its hero being the afterwards celebrated general Israel Putnam.]

While the intrenchments of Abercrombie enclosed him in security, M. de Montcalm was active in harassing the frontiers, and in detaching parties to attack the convoys of the English. Two or three convoys having been cut off by these parties, Major Rogers and Major Putnam made excursions from Lake George to intercept them. The enemy, apprised of their movements, had sent out the French partisan Molang, who had laid an ambuscade for them in the woods. While proceeding in single file in three divisions, as Major Putnam, who was at the head of the first, was coming out of a thicket, the enemy rose, and with discordant yells and whoops attacked the right of his division. Surprised, but not dismayed, he halted, returned the fire, and passed the word for the other divisions to advance for his support. Perceiving it would be impracticable to cross the creek, he determined to maintain his ground. The officers and men, animated by his example, behaved with great bravery. Putnam's fusee at length missing fire, while the muzzle was presented against the breast of a large and well-proportioned Indian, this warrior, with a tremendous war-whoop, instantly sprang forward with his lifted hatchet and compelled him to surrender, and, having disarmed him and bound him fast to a tree, returned to the battle The enemy were at last driven from the field, leaving their dead behind them; Putnam was untied by the Indian who had made him prisoner, and carried to the place where they were to encamp that night. Besides many outrages, they inflicted a deep wound with a tomahawk upon his left cheek. It being determined to roast him alive, they led him into a dark forest, stripped him naked, bound him to a tree, piled combustibles at a small distance in a circle round him, and, with horrid screams, set the pile on fire. In the instant of an expected immolation, Molang rushed through the crowd, scattered the burning brands, and unbound the victim. The next day Major Putnam was allowed his moccasins, and permitted to march without carrying any pack; at night the party arrived at Ticonderoga, and the prisoner was placed under the care of a French guard. After having been examined by the Marquis de Montcalm, he was conducted to Montreal by a French officer, who treated him with the greatest indulgence and humanity. The capture of Fort Frontenac affording occasion for an exchange of prisoners, Major Putnam was set at liberty.

Abiel Holmes

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